Monday, August 26, 2019

Last Call For The Court War On Drugs

Oklahoma Republicans took opioid manufacturers to court to recover some of the billions the state has spent dealing with opioid addiction.  The first of those cases against Johnson & Johnson reached a verdict today and it was a whopper: more than a half-billion in damages awarded.

A judge Monday found Johnson & Johnson responsible for fueling Oklahoma’s opioid crisis, ordering the health care company to pay $572 million to redress the devastating consequences suffered by the state and its residents.

Cleveland County District Judge Thad Balkman’s landmark decision is the first to hold a drugmaker culpable for the fallout of years of liberal opioid dispensing that began in the late 199os, sparking a nationwide epidemic of overdose deaths and addiction. More than 400,000 people have died of overdoses from painkillers, heroin and illegal fentanyl since 1999.

“The opioid crisis has ravaged the state of Oklahoma and must be abated immediately,” Balkman said, reading part of his decision aloud from the bench Monday afternoon.

With more than 40 states lined up to pursue similar claims against the pharmaceutical industry, the ruling in the first state case to go to trial could influence both side’s strategies in the months and years to come. Its impact on an enormous federal lawsuit brought by nearly 2,000 cities, counties, Native American tribes and others, which is scheduled to begin in October, is less certain.

“As a matter of law, I find that defendants’ actions caused harm, and those harms are the kinds recognized by [state law] because those actions annoyed, injured or endangered the comfort, repose, health or safety of Oklahomans,” Balkman wrote in the decision.

Oklahoma Attorney General Mike Hunter (R) had brought suit in 2017 against three major drug companies, accusing them of creating “a public nuisance” by showering the state with opioids, while downplaying the drugs’ addictive potential and persuading physicians to use them even for minor aches and pains. Before the late 1990s, physicians reserved the powerful drugs primarily for cancer and post-surgical pain and end-of-life care.

More than 6,000 Oklahomans have died of painkiller overdoses since 2000, the state charged in court papers, as the number of opioid prescriptions dispensed by pharmacies reached 479 every hour in 2017.

Oklahoma settled with Purdue Pharma, manufacturer of OxyContin, in March, accepting $270 million from the company and its owners, the Sackler family. Most of that will go to a treatment and research center at Oklahoma State University, although the federal government is seeking a portion of the money.

In May, two days before the trial began, the state settled with Teva Pharmaceuticals, an Israeli-based manufacturer of generic drugs, for $85 million.

That left corporate giant Johnson & Johnson, which denied any wrongdoing and chose to fight the accusations in what became a seven-week trial before Balkman. There was no jury.

Should have settled out of court, boys.

Another Republican Heading For The Exits

The latest Republican to leave the House is Wisconsin GOP Rep. Sean Duffy, retiring at the end of next month to be with his family.

Rep. Sean Duffy (R-Wis.) will resign from Congress at the end of September, the most recent in a string of Republicans who have decided against running for re-election.

Duffy, who was elected in 2010 during a GOP wave, said he and his wife are expecting a child in late October who will "will need even more love, time, and attention due to complications, including a heart condition."

"With much prayer, I have decided that this is the right time for me to take a break from public service in order to be the support my wife, baby and family need right now," Duffy said in a statement posted to his Facebook page. "It is not an easy decision – because I truly love being your Congressman – but it is the right decision for my family, which is my first love and responsibility."

Duffy will leave Congress on Sept. 23. Duffy's district, anchored in the northern reaches of Wisconsin, has been solidly Republican in recent years. Duffy won re-election by 22 points, and Donald Trump won the district by 21 in 2016.

Yeah, Sean "from MTV's Real World Boston" Duffy, same guy.  Arguably the most famous Gen Xer in politics, married Rachel Campos from Real World San Francisco.  Again, this is a safe GOP district, no real danger of it flipping blue, Wisconsin's 7th covers the area north of Eau Claire and the Wisconsin Dells all the way up to the border with the UP of Michigan, it's reliably rural and red.

But Duffy is only 47.  He could have had this district for another 30 years, and frankly being a member of Congress means you and your family get excellent medical care options.

He's out nonetheless.

Yes, We'll Take You Up On That

Native American activism has been growing exponentially across the country this decade and the Cherokee Nation is finally taking up the US government on the treaty put in place after the Trail of Tears that allows for the appointment of a delegate to the US House.

The Cherokee Nation announced Thursday that it intends to appoint a delegate to the US House of Representatives, asserting for the first time a right promised to the tribe in a nearly 200-year-old treaty with the federal government. 
It was a historic step for the Oklahoma-based Cherokee Nation and its nearly 370,000 citizens, coming about a week after Chuck Hoskin Jr. was sworn in as principal chief of the tribe. The Cherokee Nation says it's the largest tribal nation in the US and one of three federally recognized Cherokee tribes. 
The move raises questions about what that representation in Congress would look like and whether the US will honor an agreement it made almost two centuries ago. 
Here's what's at stake.

The Cherokee Nation's right to appoint a delegate stems from the same treaty that the US government used to forcibly remove the tribe from its ancestral lands. 
As a result of the 1835 Treaty of New Echota, the Cherokee were ultimately made to leave their homes in the Southeast for present-day Oklahoma in exchange for money and other compensation. Nearly 4,000 citizens of the tribe died of disease, starvation and exhaustion on the journey now known as the Trail of Tears. 
A delegate in the House of Representatives was one of the ways the US government promised to compensate the Cherokee Nation.

So why is the tribe only taking up the offer now? 
Ezra Rosser, a law professor at American University, told CNN that the US government has long made it difficult for tribes to exercise rights afforded to them in treaties. But now, tribes are asserting themselves in a way that demands the attention of non-Native Americans. 
"We have to recognize that we imposed a genocide on tribes and we imposed harsh measures toward any government structure that they had," Ezra Rosser said. "To me, it's not surprising that it would take somewhat deep into the self-determination era for tribes to be in a position to assert some of these rights." 
Hoskin echoed that sentiment, telling CNN that "the Cherokee Nation is today in a position of strength that I think is unprecedented in its history."

Not that my opinion is in a position to chance anything on this subject, but I'm 100% behind this and I think 2020 Democrats should be falling all over themselves embracing this across the country.   I don't know how much Republicans will try to block this, but pissing off 300,000 Oklahomans seems like a bad idea for even the GOP in the state.

This seems like the kind of thing there should be bipartisan support for.

Naturally, I expect Trump to find a way to foul it up.


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